Rodney Ray, the pitmaster and entrepreneur who opened the thriving T&R Taste of Texas Barbeque in Oak Park on a gamble and a dream three years ago, is taking another leap.
Ray’s new restaurant, Sticky Fingers, scheduled to open the first week of September, will specialize in soul food and barbecue “in the traditional Southern ‘one (meat) and three (sides)’ setup, but I’m going to start with one and two,” he said. Desserts will play a major role, as well.
Sticky Fingers will occupy the former site of Rick’s Dessert Diner at 2322 K St. in midtown Sacramento. The 27-year-old dessert restaurant reopened Friday in a larger space at 2401 J St.
Sticky Fingers will operate under the fast-casual concept, in which diners will order from a “Panda Express-style” template of freshly cooked soul food, barbecue items and side dishes, Ray said. Some of the dishes will be prepared at T&R, which is in a distinct mustard-yellow building at 3621 Broadway.
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“We’ll have sit-down dining, but we’re planning on 90 percent of our business being takeout,” Ray said. “On Second Saturdays, we’ll have smoked turkey legs and seasonal (dishes) like boiled crawfish, and special desserts.”
Much of Sticky Fingers’ daily menu will be based on family recipes, featuring smoked pork ribs and chicken, gravy-smothered ribs and chicken, buttermilk Southern-fried chicken, jambalaya and gumbo, tri-tip, pulled pork, an array of sausages, fried catfish and the like.
“I’m going to do a different special every day, such as meatloaf, Yankee pot roast and chitterlings,” Ray said. “We’ll always have some surprises.”
Side dishes will get the co-star treatment, not the understudy role, Ray emphasized. “We’ll have traditional and vegan mac ’n’ cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, tamale pie, barbecued spaghetti, corn kernels, greens, candied yams, red beans and rice, black-eyed peas” and more, he said.
Ray partnered in the venture with longtime business associates and friends Rodney and Lisa Nannini, husband-and-wife co-owners of Delta Restaurant Supply and Party Rentals. Ray has been the executive chef of the company’s special-events division for 15 years. This weekend, he will staff the company’s catering offshoot, Giomi’s Fine Italian Food, at Festa Italiana at the Croatian Center.
Though T&R “sells out (of barbecue) every day, I’m always coming up with ideas, and I thought it would be smart to have a backup plan (for a second restaurant) just in case,” Ray said.
“Rodney proposed a business marriage, and we accepted,” said Lisa Nannini, who will work at Sticky Fingers with daughter Delanie Nannini. As the executive chef and creative force behind Sticky Fingers, Ray will be involved daily, “working to make sure all the food meets our standards.”
There’s also a fourth partner involved, veteran pastry chef Vesela Peneva, who ran a baking and catering business before taking jobs at Selland’s Market Cafe and The Kitchen in Sacramento, Putah Creek Cafe and Buckhorn Steakhouse in Winters, and most recently at Coffee Garden in Sacramento.
“When the time came, I knew we would need a great dessert person at Sticky Fingers, so I called her,” Ray said.
Sticky Fingers’ desserts will feature the Southern staples – sweet potato and pecan pies, fruit cobblers, bread pudding and beignets – plus fancier offerings such as cannoli, chocolate mousse, cheesecake, lemon bars and Persian lime cupcakes.
“Our six-month plan is to hit the ground running, get acclimated and then start adding little touches, such as breakfast, with quiches and scones,” Ray said.
To accommodate the late-night dining crowd, Sticky Fingers plans to stay open until midnight Mondays through Thursdays and until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
As for competition, the nearby Porch restaurant at 1815 K St. has specialized in Southern cooking since opening in December 2011.
“Competition only makes me better,” Ray said.